Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. Well, another season is in the book and what a year it was. From StratFest 2020, to the view from the client’s side. From the relationship of tech and ideas, to understanding big-T strategists. From ingesting Lemon, how the advertising brain turn sour, to unpacking content and strategy. And of course, learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable talking about agency diversity, all while living in the new strange. Join Truth Collective Director of Experience, Josh Coon and CSO John Roberts, as they look back over a packed season two, and what strategy really means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.
Josh Coon: So, John, here we are. The end of season two, your second full season of podcasting and then the year of 2020, which… what a year it’s been, right? Everything that could possibly happen other than a giant asteroid striking the earth has happened. So we’ve had a lot of great guests on, and I think a lot of the themes that came up through some of the shows kind of relate to this really strange and singular year we’ve lived through. And the first episode that really kind of kicked it off was a recap of StratFest, which normally is a shindig in New York where everybody’s together, but this year it was all virtual. Tell us a little bit about the virtual StratFest.
John Roberts: Sure. So we’re going to start with a recap of a recap. StratFest ended up being a virtual one long afternoon only. And I must say, it was actually a refreshingly different experience. I know talking both from my own colleagues. And then when we discussed with Sarah and Steve on the pod itself and later on feedback. Everyone approached it in a really enthusiastic manner. There’s always some benefits to… of course, to the virtual, obviously some downside as well. We’ll miss the participation. I missed having beers in Brooklyn on a wet evening, but it worked well overall. It meant that everybody could choose some of the workshops they wanted to participate in. Got a little bit of that phase and that juice that we love from StratFest and a little bit of focus, which is interesting when we actually started to dig into a little bit about what were some key outputs from StratFest and how it applied to us.
Josh Coon: So John, there was a lot of great speakers, a lot of great content. Were there any key themes that really stood out to you? Any sections that you think our audience would really be interested to hear about?
John Roberts: It’s a great question, Josh and it’s interesting because there were so many different benefits people pulled from different workshops and so on and the speakers. But there was an overarching theme, which was one of focus, which is really interesting because I know certainly from… We’ve all talked about that. About how do we find, how do we maintain, how do we actually enjoy their measure of focus in the last one year we just had where everything’s been so different. I think Steve actually talked about it well. Listen to what he said here.
Steve: I just been the theme for me personally this year. Actually being able to give my full attention was really hard and actually being present and absorbing it in the way that I think I normally would have last year was difficult for me. When you’re at a in-person conference, your attention is defaulted to the person on the stage.
I think the burden of a speaker in a virtual event, it is so much harder to keep an audience engaged when they’re watching on their computer or their phone at home. It goes back to the whole focus thing. But the panel, I feel like the panel as a format has become even more valuable in my mind because it… you know it’s unscripted. It’s a dynamic conversation and discussion. And honestly, the more attention that is in the conversation, the more disagreement that’s happening, the more I’m instinctively tuning in. And that attention that I think is really hard to manufacture in a talk in a virtual event. But I think it made me fall in love with the panel format even more, if you’d have the right mix of people on the right topic. But all things considered, I didn’t really enjoy it.
John Roberts: And then Sarah, our other guest echoed a lot of what Steve was saying. I like what she’s talked about here.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. And I think to Steve’s point along with that focus comes the stripping down, right? Of rethinking everything in the way that we’ve done it, trying to get down to what I call a minimum viable product.
Josh Coon: Was there any panel, John that really stood out? Something that rose to the top that you’ve been thinking about since.
John Roberts: Josh, everyone has their favorites, right? What works particularly and what motivates them more than others. So there was lots of great stuff at StratFest, but it’s interesting. There was a resounding message back from everyone I spoke to in our pod, as well as boarder generally on the topic. It’s actually a live panel talking about overcoming bias and the belief. And it’s been so important to us always, but particularly 2020 is not just a year of woke, but slapped on the face in terms of really understanding as planners and strategists, it’s our responsibility to find ways to overcome bias and the belief. And that came through, honestly, in some of the other topics during the course of season two.
We hit that time and time again all the way through to our last pod, which I know we’ll come onto later. Thinking about the role that planners play in addressing diversity in our workplace, but also had some elements… When I think about the nature of being open, learning and really starting to challenge the status quo, that was a massive theme for our fantastic episode two.
Josh Coon: Before we jump into episode two, StratFest going virtual was a trend that we saw all year long, right? Major events, everything. From conventions to events like StratFest were canceled or had to go virtual. What do you think? Do you think the virtual event is here to stay? Or when we can all… We are all vaccinated and back out in the world, it’s a memory.
John Roberts: In the near future, virtual is here to stay. In the longer term, virtual is here to stay. And I think what we’ll do, we the attendees and the organizers, we’ll really start to think hard about what’s the benefit of the physical experience? The cost, the time, the effort to travel to New York, it’s just not going to happen next year, but there’s going to… There is an interesting way to think about, what do we benefit from it as planners, but also as human beings by being together, we are social animals. So how do we use that in the future? But virtual for now. Now, can we talk about episode two?
Josh Coon: We sure can. So episode two, you had a couple of powerhouse guests, Rishad and Cathy to talk about the new strange, not normal, which is a phrase we’ve heard a bajillion times over the last year. So tell our audience a little bit about that. What were the topics that rose up? What did you guys discuss?
John Roberts: The great news about Rishad for any pod host out there is invite him on, say hello, and then spend the next hour having mind blown by all the different thoughts that he wants to share with you, which is amazing. And of course, Cathy… And it happens to be [inaudible]. Cathy is the editor of WARC, meant that there was a fantastic balance of Rishad’s inspiration of future focus and Cathy’s ability to tie it back into a lot of the workload walked through about providing data to affirm beliefs or to see what’s going on. One of the things that really struck me from the session overall, and actually does come back to what we were just talking about with overcoming bias and the belief, which is the fragility of humanity.
And Rishad spoke so well about this in terms of the fragility of humanity in terms of society and all of the unlearning we’ve had to do. The new strange we tied with that episode, not the new normal, because everything’s going to be very different and will remain different. But what’s the impact that has to ask us? Us in terms of our agency world, but also us as strategists. Our role is to understand human condition and find a way to provide empathy, but also role and relevancy for brands to be purposeful. So in a new world, we have to actually understand what some of the fragility is and find ways to make sure our plans are relevant and true. Listen to how Rishad explained it here.
Rishad: The biggest human need that right now is happening is that human society and business is fragile, right? And they’re fragile because they’re anxious, they’re uncertain and they’re fearful. They’re anxious about their health, fearful about their job, the future, they’re uncertain about what this world will look like. And when that happens, what do people look for? They look for safety, they look for security, they look for the positive signs of what you’re doing with regard to society. And if fundamentally brands and marketers and planners don’t start with that human truth that we’re coming out of in this particular world, then almost everything else doesn’t resonate.
John Roberts: And Josh as you remember, there are so many different topics we explored with Rishad and Cathy, but there’s one I want to pick up that Cathy actually hits on a great notion of actions not ads. Actions not ads is a really simple but powerful way for us to think about the role that brands are playing, not just in 2020 with reaction to society and all this cataclysmic change we are going through, but the future. How do we as brands and how do we as communicators to those brands really start to deliver authentic action more than ads. Here’s how Cathy sets it out and explained.
Cathy: Well, there’s a popular phrase, actions not ads, and I’m not at all sure that the industry lives up to that. There are individual marketers that do, but I think people kind of realize these things now. And especially when it comes to black lives matter, it gets even deeper because the thing I think people are waking up to is that this is so far beyond certainly advertising and purpose. It really is everything to do with how you manage your business. So if you’re Nike, you can certainly come out with a very powerful advertising around Colin Kaepernick, but how well are you living up to everything behind that? And I’m seeing a quite a bit of research that says consumers are going to begin to vote with their wallets when it comes to all this. Whether that will map out, I don’t know. But that’s a lot of the type of thing that we’re noticing.
Josh Coon: Yeah. And I think the point that Cathy made, what you guys discussed, we’re seeing that play out in a way that’s really almost unprecedented a little bit. I mean, we’re recording this episode almost a week after the instruction at the Capitol. And since then we’ve seen brands and advertisers and all kinds of people stepping up in ways to really drive consequences for actions that we haven’t seen in a long time. And consumers I think are going to look for that more and more. They want to see that brands are supporting people that they can believe in and courses they can believe in. So it’s a really great point that I think is probably going to be playing out in real time, right? Before our eyes in a way we’ve never seen before.
John Roberts: It’s so true, Josh. I’m all set.
Josh Coon: But do you have any other point? Any point of inspiration or anything that you took away from the episode?
John Roberts: I love the way that Rishad… We got into a great conversation about how fundamentally we need to understand our clients well. CMO, their world is changing, this’s the new strange. And in fact, Rishad talked about three very simple but critical challenges that all CMOs face. The sake of brevity, now listen to the podcast. But why don’t we just end on what he saw as the third challenge? Here it is.
Rishad: I would basically say number one is to understand what customers or consumers are likely to stop or start doing, or do more of, or do less of. So to combine all kinds of research analysis insights on that, which is getting a picture of what simply would they expect more or less, stop and start. That’s number one. With that being said, number two is to look at the fragility of your business, your brand. So what are some of you own? So it’s like an earthquake as if your business. So what are the fault lines that have been revealed? On the other hand, certain things have been very resilient. There may be new opportunities have been opened as well as new threats. So expect a SWOT, but a SWOT built around this event, if that makes sense. And study that. That’s like looking inside.
And then to work together with your teams to brainstorm what you would do to either meet those customer or consumer needs, which you’ve now decided are important. Or second is having finished the first two, just put together an approach that can destroy your own brand or service. So what would you create that could destroy your product, your brand or service? And do that with only three constraints in mind, which is it has to be legal, it has to use today’s technology and it has to break even in three years. And as a result, what people will come up with are amazing marketing and business ideas.
Josh Coon: And for anybody out there who hasn’t already been sold, definitely check out Rishad’s book, it’s called Restoring the Soul of Business. And if you want to hear a longer talk with Rishad, might I humbly recommend the Higher Order Podcast where we have a really great in-depth interview with Rishad about his book, available where all final podcasts can be found. Subscribe today.
John Roberts: You were my guest on episode three. You and the great Sean Pitt from Hanson Dodge and Milwaukee. And I’m pausing not just because he’s the great Sean Pitt, but also because I was thinking about a lot of the discussions you had around the role of strategy today and how that’s melding with the creative role in content. So talk a little bit more to me, Josh. What was your takeaway from that discussion?
Josh Coon: I mean, it was great to be able to talk with Sean and hear his point of view. And I mean, really the whole episode, it was just… I really, really enjoyed the conversation and being able to dig in with another content strategist and talk about the way that the communication is changing with our audience and kind of world of content versus the world of ads. And so, a lot of it’s about how we approach problems, how we approach the way we’re going to tell stories and what channels are relevant to the people that we’re trying to tell the story to and how deep those stories interactions can get. Sean had a couple of really great insights. And I think one that would be perfect for the audience to hear would be…
Sean Pitts: When you look at it from a framework where you don’t have those barriers, when you approach the problem or figure out what the creative purpose is without that boundary in place, you may find that there’s another creative outlet or another content strategy that might work better than trying to produce the typical TV ad, the radio spot and the digital banners, right? You might find that creating a podcast or a film, or some type of music playlist, or whatever it might be. I’ve seen brands do all different types of things that kind of shift the narrative, right? And inserts the brand in this piece of culture.
Josh Coon: One of the other things that we talked about was just kind of the changing roles of how inside the agency, right? The creative team and working with content team and strategists and how everything is kind of shifting around and really the process of change that we’re still all undergoing as the way that we communicate with people has changed so much. And there’s just so many different ways to reach out and kind of make that connection for a brand or for our own brands. So a lot of it was kind of tied to that a little bit too, is like how agency culture is shifting.
John Roberts: Yeah. That’s so true. And it’s funny, Josh. It’s the agency culture that you talk about now. And also, I love when you’re talking about how do we approach the problem? If we approach the problem, and you’ve just said with Sean thinking about shifting the world of content from ads. If we approached the problem assuming the answer is some form of advertising, some form of paid media, then we’re going to be thrilled from the get-go. And I loved the way you talked about actually approaching the problem by thinking about, what’s the idea look like six months from now or 12 months from now? So let’s have a listen to what you said about that.
Josh Coon: And then I think for me, one thing that’s really, really helpful is I try to take any idea or anything and spread it out over time. So it’s like, what’s it going to look like six months from now, but then also 12 months from now or 24 months from now. Because that changes the way you approach a creative problem. It’s easy to write the first dozen tweets, it’s hard to write a hundreds tweets. So it’s like that kind of stuff I think really helps people frame the problem up differently.
John Roberts: That’s funny because coming back to what you’re just talking about in terms of agency culture. Does that also mean that we need to give ourselves a little bit of a leeway of not everything has to be perfect, the executed or encapsulated in every single execution?
Josh Coon: I mean, yeah, absolutely. And the way that people consume content now is so different than what it’s ever been before. I mean, you’ve got influencers on TikTok as an example, that have essentially built themselves a fan base that is 70 million, 100 million people. And they’ve kind of done it on their own and they’re now getting deals with Dunkin’ Donuts and all kinds of other people, but those videos are produced essentially really lo-fi. They’re made on a phone, they’re made… And people are flocking to that kind of really authentic content. So I think people are much more forgiving. And then you add on COVID right where we can’t be in a podcast studio talking to each other, we’re in our homes. So there’s another layer of authenticity that people are very willing to accept. And they love a big production when they want a big production, but on a day-to-day basis, they’re really comfortable with kind of more organically made, honestly made lo-fi production.
John Roberts: This was not the intention of season two, but everything we’ve been talking about now, it’s funny living in this world of change. The most overused phrase for 2020, right? But there’s element of change seems to be pervasive throughout. And that led into… To me that led into episode four. And I was interested in doing episode four, which was what’s it like client side? Because the last three years, at least three, four years, more and more we’re seeing the planners expect their next significant career change to be client side. The growing role of strategy and strategists as a value to the client.
So we invited my old friend, Carrie Riby, who has been agency side for [inaudible], integrated communications, media planning, but recently in the last a year or so moved client side. And one of our friends and clients, Inga. Inga Grote-Ebbs, who’s a brand director at FIFCO and Inga has more of the “traditional” client side brand marketing background, having worked for significant brands all of her corporate life. So we’ve gotten together to talk about, is the grass really greener on the other side? And if so, what are they putting on it? What was your takeaway, Josh?
Josh Coon: It was a really great episode and it’s really interesting to see what it’s like. And I’ve been on the other side. This is… Truth Collective, this’s my first agency job in a long time. So I’m very familiar with what it’s like to be on the other side. Carrie said something that I really liked, which was doing always… just keep doing what we’re doing. How do we move and change an organization from the inside? And so, let’s take a listen to kind of what she had to say.
Carrie Riby: Market conditions are changing, market conditions will always change. I mean, we’re not always going to have a pandemic, but we’re always going to have a situation where technology or human behavior is going to change. And do we just keep what we always do? Or do we modify what we need to do to keep up with that? And I think this whole pandemic has sort of taught us that we can, this is possible. And by the way, we should continue to do this. We should not go back to our comfortable ways. And I think that’s an amazing lesson that I think all companies should really take from what we’ve just been through.
Josh Coon: I think one of the things that I loved about what Inga said was the role of empathy. How important it is for an organization to empathize with employees, understand what they’re going through for us to understand what our consumers and the audience is going through. That was a really valuable point that I think is something we should always keep in mind.
Inga G.: For me it’s a lot about empathy. Empathy for employees, empathy for your consumers, empathy for your community, because I think Carrie’s example is wonderful. And I’ve seen it with my previous employer as the pandemic started, right? We pivoted so quickly to… yeah, we are a business and we have to sell a product, but right now we have to help. We have to help our customers, we have to help our employees figure out how to navigate working from home with kids. And yes, we’ll have dogs and kids on zoom calls and that’s perfectly normal and okay. So I think if we can in the future continue to think about maybe what the other side looks like and how the other side feels, I think that would be really wonderful for me if we can carry that forward.
John Roberts: That was a really good perspective listening back to Inga. And it’s interesting, right? Because we began this thinking about why I’ve stressed is moving clients side. And what I heard from Inga was, because there’s a fundamental role for strategists in terms of really delivering empathy that is of growing importance to ambitious successful clients like Inga. So good pickup there. So episode five, my old friend, Raig Adolfo, who I bumped into the number at StratFest, and I really wanted to get Raig and his friend Fred Gerantabee, who’s the Chief Experience Officer at FGX International, an Essilor company, talking about the role of technology. How does technology and an idea work in the ideal world, in the real world? Because I think of myself almost as a Luddite, podcasting is the extreme of my technology. But thinking about asking people like Raig, who’ve lived through it with his RGA experience and others, oh, and 360i. I’m really starting to understand, how does technology help deliver an idea? What about you Josh? When you think about that conversation with Fred and Raig going through, was there a key takeaway for you?
Josh Coon: There was a couple of things that I really loved. And Kind of the idea that technology itself isn’t the answer, but it’s a tool that you use to apply to a creative solution. And I even find myself sometimes being like… I’ll see something new and exciting and I really want to try it. And I start looking for a place to put it versus the other way round, which is what am I trying to solve? And what’s the right technological tool if any, to solve it? Sometimes it’s an analog tool or whatever, but I mean, sometimes you want to try so bad like the new AI thing or voice or whatever it is. Like, where can I use that? But that… I thought that was a really kind of cool point.
John Roberts: It’s great because I love the work that Raig and his team had just launched on Kroger. But he reminded us just what you’re saying, our job as strategist is problem solving. And so, first let’s really make sure we understand what the problem is before we start thinking about technology as a soul. Listen to this. Raig says it so much better.
Raig Adolfo: There’s a lot of talk about problem solving, but people forget that problem solving is more about the problem than the solving, right? You really need to find what the problem is. What is the problem you’re trying to solve for the brand? And then what problems are we trying to solve for the people that the brand serves throughout their journey and throughout the CX of this brand entirely. And how can you bring that to life? And then we see that, okay, great. What tech is available to make that happen? But basically we created this in partnership with our client Kroger. Kroger has a very strong commitment to sustainability and they put a lot of money and energy behind reducing food waste. And we were looking through the data and understood that 40% of the food waste actually happens at home.
People throw away a lot of food and digging deeper into that, why that happens, we deal with it so that, that happens mostly due to lack of creativity. So if you open your fridge and you have five or six things that are still there and you don’t know what to do with them or how to use them together or individually, you end up throwing them away because they’re going to go bad. So working with this client, they said, “Well, let’s create a platform that educates people.” And we started thinking about content and where to put it, but then later, again, going back to what’s the problem we’re trying to solve. So we created something called the Chefbot, which is a Twitter meets Lens, meets AI solution. And we launched this theme.
It’s a Twitter profile, that you tweet to this profile the picture of three or four ingredients that you have in your fridge right now and it tweets back to you a recipe. What you can do with that. And it solves the problem. So we just launched this thing last week and there’s already a lot of movement happening there. The technology is not perfect yet, it has never done before. So of course, we keep on fixing it as we go, but the success rate has been amazing and people are throwing less stuff away because they are really leveraging what they have left in the fridge until the last moment.
Josh Coon: I really love how Raig spoke about imagination, his desire to inspire people to imagine. And I think that’s something worth before we move on to the next episode. Let’s listen to that.
John Roberts: But the only thing I really would inspire people to do is I can not imagine. I think imagination is what drives the creation of technology and the best use of it. There’s going to be a lot of engineers and a lot of very smart people who are going to create technology there. It is our responsibility as marketers and as agency folks to push it to the next level to all it can do. So without our ambition behind it, our push, the tech is just tech.
Josh Coon: Another thing I really loved is how Fred really dug into how important it is for us to ask the right questions. Let’s take a little listen.
Fred G.: Nowadays, there’s also a level of service that is expected with that, in connectivity. I think that’s what technology does brilliantly. That being said, if you go technology first down and say, okay, well, we’re going to do something with bots or do something with AI or with voice, the problem is you’re trying to essentially find a question that matches an answer versus the other way around.
Josh Coon: So John, you had Julian back on this season to kind of talk about big-T strategists and what that all means. It was a great episode. He’s a really exciting guest. Kind of break that down. What is the big-T strategist? What’s he talking about?
John Roberts: Yeah, for sure. And you know… Before I jump into what is the big-T, the reason why I invited Julian back amongst others, the many guests we’ve had, is he such a born enthusiastic and I share that. And I think that fundamentally, that’s what Planner Parley is about with our podcasts of other forms. But Julian also has a great way of delivering a very simple clarity, breaking everything down. It’s a science, it’s an art, that I think all strategists aspire to. Myself, definitely. So the big-T strategist is of course, thinking about… Julian explains it and he has a training program for this, which I encourage anybody to sign up for. But the best construct is this thinking about what digital skills do you need to have? Not just the ability to drill down and deliver insight. Julian’s perspective is less about the functional and more about the attitude not the human skills you need in order to be successful. And they bore down into three skills. Diplomacy, management and selling. Have a listen to this.
Julian: Yeah. To me, that almost comes through in also selling strategy. So to me, management happens within your department. When I think about selling strategy, that is about selling it to the rest of the department. And I talk about, there’s three different types of diplomacy or politics. There’s the upwards, downwards and sidewards. Downwards is you’re managing a team and then you’re managing a group and really upskilling your team there and helping them grow. Upwards diplomacy is simple. It’s like, what are you doing to senior leadership to make sure you’re going into their goals. And then sidewards, I think is really key. And this is what I say a lot of small agencies soul is, how you putting the value of strategy out there, how you packaging it up and teaching the skills of selling strategy is kind of vital.
I’m also a big believer in the Japanese corporate culture theory of nemawashi, all about hallways over board rooms. And so, that idea is that you never want to be presenting to more than one senior client at a time or senior person at a time, whether it’s in your agency or a client. Because what happens there, especially if it’s two seniors who are about the same level, often they don’t know how the other person’s going to decide. And so, naturally when you’re putting something new on the table, if you don’t know how the other person’s responding, the easiest thing to do is shut it down. So they’ll shut that… the thing down. Where what nemawashi teaches you is get that coalition building into that meeting. So you’ve got another positive senior voice in the room who can help sway that decision in the right direction.
Josh Coon: So John, you had Orlando Wood join, author of Lemon, which is a really, really great book about… It and it’s kind of how… His title is Lemon, how advertising turns sour and what we can do about it. And there was a lot of really, really great insights into the world that we live and we work in every day. So kind of jumping a little bit. What made you bring Orlando on and what were some of the takeaways?
John Roberts: So full divergence now. I’ve been stalking Orlando over the last 10 years because I love his brain and his perspective and also thank his eloquence. His ability to be able to communicate some very, very complex new [inaudible], but how it relates to us. How it relates to us as strategists, as humans and in the world of communication. Finding role and relevancy to our brands. So when he bought out Lemon, how advertising turns sour and what we can do about. It fits for me the essence of Parley, but also what I continue to look for, for thirst and knowledge, which is help me appreciate a problem and also give me some thoughts and guidance to inspire solving. As we talked about earlier. A big takeaway for me would be the reality that Orlando explained so well about what’s been going on over the last 10 to 15 years in the world of communications.
And what’s been happening is we’ve been seeing a shift to more of a left brain dominance. We spent a little time talking about the role of left brain and right brain, and I’m sure people are familiar with the simplicity of it, of the right brain being creativity and flair and openness and suggestion and metaphor. And the left brain being information and reason and a sense of post rationalizing. As I say, there’s no such thing as a pre rationalization. Orlando said it’s so much better. So listen to this when he talked about the issue.
Orlando Wood: What I do in Lemon is I show how… Not just in advertising by the way, but in culture more broadly and films and music and comedy output. How there’s been a real shift in the last 15 years towards this sort of left brain dominance. And that in advertising terms, this means when you look at advertising films, ads, videos that whereas 20, 30 years ago, you had ads that showed people in the real world or reacting to each other in live time characters, perhaps something happening that’s interesting and then the easily defined place. Today advertising doesn’t tend to do that and instead, it is a series of short sharp cuts edited very quickly together. That there is a sense of abstraction.
John Roberts: And so, picking up from Orlando there, it really led into identifying the real problem is a simple, but a complex one. The real problem is that advertising… And Orlando thinks about all forms of brand communication is advertising. So don’t think this is purely about a 30 second spot. But we’ve lost our emotion. We’ve started to become too rational and functional delivery of message, which will have a short-term spike, perhaps in terms of information leading to a near term action, but will not have a significant business impact over time. And fundamentally that’s what brands are here to do. To provide a point of distinction and enhance, add business value over time.
So Orlando taught a lot about the role of emotion, but what I loved was actually he started then start to think about… If you look at… And he has done the thousands and thousands of the most creative work that had the biggest business impact. And that’s a long way of saying the most award worthy work, creativity in distinction. It’s remarkable, it stands out, but it also delivered a business impact. It really comes down to three things. Counter, incident and place. And here’s how Orlando explain those.
Orlando Wood: In recent work I’ve just done, actually. I’ve looked at the features of advertising that both hold attention, and this is not just on TV, but online as well and elicit an emotional response. And there are a number of things that it seems to me quite clear that we need to be doing if we’re trying to hold attention and at least an emotional response. And the three things that the character incident in place.
Josh Coon: One of the things John, Orlando said was advertising has become less and less unique, less and less different. In part of that, I wonder and I’d love your thoughts on it. Is part of that because we’re exposed to so much more and we’re making so much more? I mean, you think about years ago, right? Where ads were coming out on TV or in newspapers, you might see the same ad run for months at a time. You would be exposed to it so much less. You would take in so much less than we take in today where we’re seeing social ads. We’re seeing ads just about on every channel from your phone, to your computer, to streaming services, to radio, to Spotify. We see so much of it. Has that made it harder to emotionally connect with advertising and make emotional advertising?
John Roberts: Oh, great question. We touched upon it a little bit with Orlando and I do think there’s some key points he made that I agree with. There was definitely a volume, as you just said, that can inhibit the scale and spectrum, the amount of feeling that we can imbue particularly when you think about some of the functional delivery points we have now in terms of the three second spot, let alone the 30 second spot. Or the role of digital and the way the tsunami of programmatic, for example. But fundamentally, I do think it comes down to… as Orlando talked about, a human shift. By that I mean we and our clients are being measured on near term metrics more and more. And building an emotional connection between brand and consumer, an emotional connection that will lead to long-term value and business growth takes time.
Josh Coon: So advertising’s becoming less emotional, basically. Less likely to be noticed, less likely to be remembered. Emotion helps to orientate our attention after all. So that is a real problem. And so, the book tries to unpack why that might be and then also give some pointers really as to how to address it, how to make work. That we will know, when we see it and we’ll remember it.
John Roberts: We touched a little bit upon the great work of Bennett and Phil talking about the role of brand and activation as they see it. Activation being near term, immediate business impact and the result that you want to see.
And Bennett and Phil would have proven time and time again, that whilst that absolutely has a role and should do in near term impact the result, it will not build and lead longterm business growth. So our job as strategist as Orlando talk about is to imbue our brand communication storytelling with a sense of emotion and distinction. It feel different. As well as actually think about how do we deliver on that in the volume as he talk about for the near term. So I encourage everybody. Of course, have listened to all the pods, but there’s so much more that Orlando can unpick by his book. Follow him. And I’m definitely going to be looking for Orlando to come back in season three to share a little bit more because we can always learn more.
Josh Coon: Yeah, it was a great episode. And I agree. I borrowed your copy of his book for what I thought would be a couple of weeks, but then we had to quarantine. So it turned out to be a couple of months and it was really great.
John Roberts: Well it’s interesting, right? Because Orlando picks up on the point and I think this really matters to us as strategists, finding a relevancy. It’s so easy for us to have a conversation about, oh, advertising should be emotional, so it can draw a connection with people and make them feel something, but he ties it all the way back through society over millennia, thinking about the fundamental shift in communication and art. We’ll go from a more right-brained creative flare using imagination and metaphor in our work to then shift into a more rational, functional two dimensional flatness. So please, I encourage everyone, buy his book. I’m not on commission, but that way I might be able to get him back for season three.
So then Josh, that leads us through to our final episode, apart from this one of course, in season two podcasts. When I asked a friend, Alexis Agosto from the 4A’s, who is the leader of the MAIP Program, as well as one of the MAIP alumni, Jineen Carcamo, who is the digital strategist at Translation, to come and talk with absolute honesty and authenticity about one of the significant explosions of course, that happened in all of our lives in 2020, where I talked about not just being woke, but being slapped around the face with the realization that there is so much that we need to do to address equity and inclusion in our industry. And I heard loud and clear from Alexis and Jineen. And of course, we’re familiar with a lot of the discussions we had throughout the pod season.
The role of strategists is to be able to provide an empathy, as you talked about earlier, Josh. Not just client side, but also within our agency work no matter what we do. Empathy means a cognitive understanding of the world our brands live in and the people we’re trying to connect to. And we don’t have enough equity and inclusion in our industry. We’re woefully underrepresented across diversity of race, ethnicity, gender. So we asked Alexis and Jineen to come and share a little bit about what they do from the 4A’s and how it translates into agency world. So have a listen to this clip from Jineen, where she expresses her opinion having gone through the MAIP Alumni Program, now working in a great [inaudible] Translation, about the role of authenticity and what we can do about it.
Jineen C.: There are a lot of things that naturally strategists do. I think empathy for me has always been a big part of my personality, but I do think it’s a strength in my role as a strategist. So being able to empathize and be keen to understand, it’s like curiosity piece which I also think is another pivotal tenet of being the strategist. So using those things to your advantage, the same way that you would dive into a brand, the same way you would dive into an industry analysis, do that for a culture. Learn to understand not to assume is kind of my leading tip. So don’t think because you read all about my culture that you know it because there are things that I feel and I carry with me that you can’t understand, that you won’t understand. So let others lead where they are with their focus [inaudible] and be open to following sometimes.
Josh Coon: John, Alexis also had some really great feedback. And a lot of it was about how to challenge yourself and ways to approach this topic honestly and authentically. Kind of tell us a little bit about that part of the conversation.
John Roberts: Yes, Josh. There’s so many functional support services that the 4A’s can offer to all agencies that I encourage everybody to go check out. They in fact, published 150 page report halfway through the year on diversity and inclusion and what we can do about it. But you know what it boiled down to? What I love, the humanity and the honesty that Alexis gave us when she talked about, if we don’t ask the questions and if we’re not prepared to be uncomfortable, we will never be able to be successful. So listen to how Alexis explained it here.
Alexis: You’re right. No one wants to offend anyone else and we’re being more sensitive with that regard, but also if we’re not comfortable with being uncomfortable and making those mistakes, how are we ever going to learn?
Challenge yourself. Ask your community, your friends, whether they’re close friends or not close friends, whatever. I ask them to be authentic and say, hey, is there anything that I could be improving on? Within my communication, within… just whatever it could be. Be honest with me. Because sometimes we don’t see our own blind spots, but other people see them within us. And if they can call you out on it and you can be willing and ready to receive that message, then you are putting yourself and setting yourself up for success. So I think being honest… It goes back to the theme of what we’re talking about today, honesty, authenticity. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable and really challenge yourself to grow. A lot of it is quite honestly self work.
Josh Coon: And I know this is a topic that means a lot to you. I mean, it means a lot to everyone, but in our own agency, John, you’ve been leading the charge to make sure that we’re really being proactive about diversity and inclusion in a way that’s meaningful. Not just to talk about it, not just to put something on our website, but to make meaningful change. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s meant to you to be able to dig in on this? And what have you learned and where do you see it going?
John Roberts: Josh, it’s funny. My immediate reaction just follows up with what Alexis was talking about in that clip, which is it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for as a strategist and as an agency owner because you have to face up to the reality that we are all biased and we all have implicit bias in us. And so, it’s recognizing that implicit bias and owning it and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the wrong expression, accepting being uncomfortable. I don’t want to be comfortable anymore. And I think that should be true of all of us in agency world, particularly when I think about the role of planners. As soon as we become comfortable, we constrain ourselves to our habits.
And so, I’m challenging myself, our teams, our clients as well on let’s face up to being uncomfortable and saying we don’t know or we don’t understand and find ways to understand. And a lot of that comes down to fundamental critical role for planners, right? Which is to be curious. So I encourage everybody to be really open to being curious and being a little bit exposed, accepting the fact that we all have bias in our upbringing, in our lives, in our agency world and find ways to become more knowledgeable, to become more equitable. That makes sense, Josh?
Josh Coon: Yeah. It does. I mean, and I think it’s a lesson here and it’s a lesson I think that 2020 has really brought forward. Is we can’t live in the world we want to live in, we have to live in the world that surrounds us every day. The reality is you can’t retreat to your biases, you can’t retreat to the things that make you feel comfortable. We have to… as you said, push ourselves to go out and be uncomfortable and then find out what’s making us uncomfortable and try to make the changes that we think we need to see in the world. It’s become too easy I think with the way that communication and… Community is on the internet, things have fractured to where you can go find a happy place. Where you can just live in the world as you wish it was.
John Roberts: That’s so true.
Josh Coon: But that’s not the world anymore. And I think we’ve been forced to confront through the pandemic and everything else that like… There’s a reality that surrounds us whether we want it or not. And we have to try to deal with it all and make it better.
John Roberts: It’s so true, Josh. And you know, when I think back our podcast, all of our guests are fantastic because I can learn and have learned so much from every single one of them. We just grabbed snapshots for the course of the last 40 minutes or so. This pod look during the season recap. But one of the things that really struck me, it was picking up on what you were saying. Being open and thinking about what can we do to drive change? It’s a fundamental role of a strategist or planner as I’ve talked about. Building empathy, a cognitive understanding of the audiences that we need to serve. And quite frankly, as you’ve just said so well, okay, the world that we live in now and our brands live in.
The second thing is QFC. It’s the reason why… I absolutely believe it’s the reason why most planners and strategists are in this business. Is because they’ve found a place where their insatiable curiosity can be applied. That’s a passion. But when I think about what we need to do with that, I do believe it comes back a little bit, a lot actually, to what Julian Cole was saying all the way back when the big-T strategist is, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be curious, it’s not enough to deliver an understanding. We also have to be the enthusiast for that within our agencies and with our clients and within our circles. The enthusiastic share all of that. Not because we’re the experts, but to encourage everyone to create this sense of openness and that culture, where we are going to ask ourselves more uncomfortable questions because it will make us better people. We may understand that there are new answers.
So that’s my thought when I look back on all the season two. The challenge that we have of this crazy world of COVID, right? And how we began all the way back with the so prescient Rishard, we’re thinking about his book on Restoring the Soul of Business and the challenges of business, which is just amplified by COVID world.
And Steve Kozel talked about in terms of StratFest, less about StratFest itself, as you asked, Josh, but also about the reality of the impact COVID world had on strategists, which was the inability or the difficulty for us to be able to focus to really drill down. And at the same time, that drilling down, it’s… The counterpoint to that is what we were just talking about just now with Alexis and Jineen and your thoughts about the world that we need to live in now of being more open. Pretty good season.
Josh Coon: It was. So can we expect a season three, John? Fans want to know. People are listening.
John Roberts: I love talking and listening to great people, so season three is coming. I think we’ll play a little bit with the format. So any suggestions from anybody, both in terms of guests or formats, then we all want to hear about it.
Josh Coon: Absolutely.
John Roberts: But season three will be coming, Josh. And you my friend, will be on it.
Josh Coon: I apologize to everyone who’s listening in advance. John, thanks so much. Thank you for talking to all the guests, all the people that joined at the season. There’s so much to learn. If you missed the episodes, they’re all out there where you find your podcasts. Spotify, iTunes, Google play, wherever they are. Go track them down and listen in and get caught up before season three.
John Roberts: Cheers, Josh. Thank you everyone for listening in.
Outro: Planner Parley, a Truth Collective Production.